Human beings must understand that much of their grandeur and achievement pale in comparision to the other organisms on this planet. We must come to terms as an organism or as a species and realize the importance of ensuring our survival. How can we transcend our present status with technology, improve our consciousness and our bodies while maintaining harmony with our planet and beyond? Part I looks into how one realizes the importance of this "species" state and comes to understand the need to attain transcendent states with transcendent technologies.
Our greatest fear is that the technology we develop could one day come back to challenge the collective worth of our existence. This is probably why there are so many efforts to develop friendly forms of artificial intelligence programmes, or "friendly AI". But in designing such a conditional form of intelligence, are we practicing a form of techno-eugenics in order to preserve our security?
At the outset, the desire to design "friendly" AI is important, but it also challenges our cultural memes of equality and liberty. If artificial intelligence is indeed capable of attaining consciousness, then are we denying the liberty of a radically new form of life? It is a real challenge to choose between an anthropocentric view or an ecocentric point of view. Here is where we go back to the tipping point where we distinguish ourselves from being a boon or a disease on the planet.
The anthropocentric view dictates that we can choose to redesign nature to suit our existence. However, this is very much similar to what a virus does. The virus manipulates the very core of the host cell and forces the cell to use it’s resources to produce more viruses which ultimately bursts out, destroying the host. A parallel could easily be drawn between a virus using the cell’s resources for replication and our own exploitation of our planet’s resources to survive and multiply.
If humanity is truly a viral infection of the Earth, then one day we will exhaust all our resources and attempt to colonize other planets in the solar system and beyond. As we contemplate this process, we must ask ourselves if our planet is no longer inhabitable, would we seek to overpower another species in order to colonize a habitable planet? Surely, there are going to be intergalactic wars in the future, and we may not always be the victors nor the heroes. So, why continue this basal existence and eventually destroy our home planet when we can choose to transcend ourselves, ascend our consciousness and live in harmony?
Harmony. It is such a lovely word. John Lennon sang a melancholy dreamy inspiration for all of us in his song "Imagine". If only all of what he aspired for in his song were that easy. Although we humans may have succeeded in becoming the most prominent species on out planet, we are still largely divided amongst ourselves. There are those who have and those who do not. In every aspect of society, there is still, a distinct presence of discrimination; either pronounced or subtle. We compete with each other in ways that would fail to differentiate us from the other animals we have seemingly evolved from. Our history has been riddled with prolonged conflicts, encroachments, slavery , and genocides.
Though we have had great moments in our history and have managed to overcome most of our "evils", we are never far away from reverting back to our old selves; and imposing the age old discriminations that we imposed on each other. When discriminations are complimented with actions, they result once again in the very cruel aspects of "eugenics" and "genocides". Therefore, harmonious existence requires a lot of sacrifices and compromises. It comes somewhere between the anthropocentric and the ecocentric viewpoints. A delicate balance is to be forged between our species and the planet. The greatest challenge for such a bond is for us to accept our position both critically and with humility. Only then can we transform ourselves. Great change must begin with small steps, otherwise it would lead to a rapid collapse.
To begin with, every individual must undergo a change in thinking which is free from the entrapments and preconceived notions imposed by a cultural society. A loving acceptance of one’s own species irrespective of sex, colour, race, religion or caste is required. But, this is not so easy. Most often, the individual is too weighed down by the bonds of economic, social and religious obligations to feel the universal love and yearn to transcend to a higher state. It is usually left to the other individuals, the scientist and the philosophers to contemplate the destiny of the technologies consumed by the rest of the crowd. The crowd may be too preoccupied with collecting the most resources for them and their families that they do not have the time to contemplate.
In 3001: The Final Odyssey, Arthur C.Clarke writes …whatever godlike powers and personalities lurked beyond the stars, Poole reminded himself, for ordinary humans only two things were important, love and death. Our mortality is our greatest weakness. Knowledge of our own bodies has improved and continues to improve solely to overcome this singular weakness. The pursuit of immortality is not a dream nor a legend anymore. It is entirely possible to achieve an ageless body, one where the cells would stay young and keep dividing at any lifespan much like that of a child. It would also become possible to obtain custom superhuman bodies such as Primo Post Human envisioned by Natasha Vita More.
In a posthuman future, we will as a species, "exist" not just as organic life forms but also as data. But such a posthuman future shall not arise unless we address the current problems. A Mayfly lives only for a day compared to a human being who lives much much longer. But the Mayfly is oblivious to this enviable lifespan of a human. Such is our case, with regards to our expectations of a posthuman future. It is in fact very similar to Vernor Vinge’s "fish analogy". I do not think it is entirely possible to leapfrog across generations into a posthuman future. It may only be possible to "accelerate" or "encourage" such a future. Therefore in essence, it must be realized that it is more important to contemplate acceptance and development of technologies that help us address the immediate concerns of our kind and those which enhance and preserve the relationships that we have with our home planet.
The alarming impacts of human activities such as global warming and loss of biodiversity has made us realize that we must not only take care of our own kind but also of the entire planet in order to survive. We have the potential to serve as guardians and we have begun doing this already. But, what we do is not enough. We are not united enough. We fight amongst ourselves for food, water and shelter. In the real world, there is no galactic federation to centrally take care of the problems that plague us. The United Nations is so far the only refuge for crisis or conflict. As we realize the urgency of the crisis facing us, we are urged to co-operate and co-exist with the planet to preserve the existence of the generations that would come after us. We will be to blame if the future generation is forced to have membrane filters implanted in addition to their biological lungs.
People who philosophize about the future must act responsibly to bring it to reality. We need thinkers who can bring visions to those who cannot see the rainbows. Personally, I would like the future to be available to all. There is always a lot of fear which is not without truth considering our past history, that genetic technologies, sophisticated biological warfare and other technologies would be used against the weaker sections of humanity.
In today’s world, one is weak mostly in terms of economic power. There is a huge difference in available technologies to the rich and the poor and the divide gets bigger each day. Some say that this division is inevitable. However, I would say that a submission to such presumed "inevitabilities" would one day consume the hard earned ideals of equality, justice and liberty. If anything does mark our species as being distinct if we are extinct one day, it would be our capacity to love. Our altruistic nature would be the only true achievement that we have acquired from our consciousness.
This capacity to love indefinitely is the reason why revolutions, new political systems and environmental conservation/restoration has been happening throughout history. One can no longer escape by stating “Karma” or “neutrality” for not helping make these technologies available to all sections of people. We must understand that most conflicts are born out of sheer frustration where one section of society enjoys all the fruits of human progress while the other is left to forage or wait for the same. At this point in time, I cannot predict that any one economic or political system/philosophy can offer the solutions. It would not be sensible to do so. But the interconnected "global village" can no longer pretend that problems due to lack of access to life saving and essential technologies are not their concern.
We are becoming so enmeshed that a genocide in Africa, an explosion in Arabia or a flood in Asia would hurt us no matter where we are. Why should we feel this pain for others? It is because, deep down beyond all the scientific and intellectual shrouds, we love each other. We just do not know it. The human species must collectively shed their doubts, and their socio-cultural trappings in order to bring universal access to advanced technologies without hindrances of superstition or red tape. Regulations should be framed not with aims to curb progress in any one part of the globe but to regulate against destructive usage. At present, it is not important whether to transform into a flying superman who turns colours faster than a chameleon. It is more important to transform ourselves into beings who lives in disease free bodies and in a clean environment. The future will happen automatically.
Coming back to my robot toy, I have since realized that if I divest myself of my religious and cultural memes, I am really no different from the mechanized robot. I would be active only as long as the switch is turned on. Knowledge of body biochemistry and neuro-biology shows how incredible an organism we are. Once we are humbled by this knowledge and have accepted ourselves as nothing more than another organism, we would see the sense in pursuing technologies that prolong conditions for life in the body and overcome fundamental obstacles namely disease and mortality.
Once we realize the importance of such "transhuman" technologies, we would begin to undergo a dramatic change in consciousness where all people, irrespective of orientation, gender or race would appear to us equally as dignified individuals. Once such an acceptance is born, then we would no longer be bound by assumptions, ego or discrimination. We would also have several options to combat things that we previously felt we could never stop. We could never have imagined that one day we would dissect the genetic structure of pathogenic viruses for drug design.
This is all just a small measure of the amount of change that can be brought about by emergent futuristic technologies. But, it is important that we tread carefully. Already there are criticisms against futurists who wish to see immortal posthumans walking on the street. But much of such criticism is based on fear from past history where we have gone wrong. I would like the critics of such technologies to come forward and work in cohesion with the next generation of innovators as guardians of our sanity lest we become uncontrollable.